On a day where there were some whispers of a potential “Sleepy Saturday” upset from Northwestern, it was the Wildcats who came out looking asleep against No. 4 Penn State.
In the second game of Northwestern’s back-to-back set against top-ten opponents, the Wildcats were nearly kept off the scoreboard by the Nittany Lions, losing 31-7 on Homecoming Day.
Facing off against a third-best defense in the country, the Wildcats could not get anything going offensively, putting up only 265 yards of total offense and failing to find the end zone until the 59th minute of the game. Northwestern’s defense actually played well for the majority of the contest, but eventually the Nittany Lions were able to break through and pull away for the commanding victory.
After more than 11 minutes of defensive stops, Penn State finally opened the scoring with 13 seconds to go in the first, as kicker Tyler Davis split the uprights on a 21-yard field goal.
The Nittany Lions added to their lead early in the second quarter, as Trace McSorley connected with Tommy Stephens from 10 yards out with 12:04 to go. For the remainder of the half, neither team managed to score, leaving Northwestern down 10-0 after 30 minutes. Amazingly, Northwestern managed to hold Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley to -1 yard on eight carries in the first half. I repeat, the best player in college football had rushed for negative yardage at the halftime break.
Northwestern’s defense couldn’t hold down Barkley and the Nittany Lions forever, as Penn State engineered a 10-play, 66-yard touchdown drive capped off by Barkley’s one-yard plunge with 9:33 left in the third.
As Northwestern’s offense continued to flounder, starting linebacker Paddy Fisher was flagged for a targeting penalty with 7:51 left in the the quarter, triggering an automatic ejection and a suspension for the first half of next week’s game. A little more than five minutes later, Barkley finally broke a big play, busting loose for a 53-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 24.
Northwestern’s next two drives went for a total of -7 yards, after which Penn State delivered another long drive, which ended in a five-yard touchdown run by McSorley just inside the nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Down 31-0, Northwestern pulled quarterback Clayton Thorson and replaced him with backup Matt Alviti. The Wildcats managed to put together an 80-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the game, with Alviti punching it in from a yard out to finally put points on the scoreboard.
The defensive nature of the game was well-reflected in the stat sheet, as neither team passed for 300 yards or rushed for 100 yards.
On the Nittany Lions side, McSorley completed 25 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown along with another score on the ground. Barkley was held to only 75 yards on 16 carries, an astonishingly low yardage total considering he had one run of over 50 yards, but he did find paydirt twice in the second half.
The numbers were grim for the Wildcats, as Thorson ended the day 19 of 36 for 142 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions, while Justin Jackson carried it 16 times for 66 yards.
The Wildcats travel to Maryland next week, trying to get back to .500 as they face off against the Terrapins. That game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Central and can be found via the “Listen Now” tab on WNURSports.com.